The U.S. public education system focuses on a century-old model that was originally designed to educate factory workers. While American public education has made many reforms throughout the years, student performance has remained stagnant.
The National Center on Education and the Economy suggests that the U.S. should look abroad for inspiration to fuel education reforms, including expanding national standards for curriculum, administering smarter and fewer tests and improving teacher quality and salaries.
U.S. Ranks Low in Test Scores
Students from the U.S., China, South Korea, Finland, Australia and many other countries took the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) to measure their skills in reading, math and science. The test is administered to 15-year-olds every three years by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Among the 65 participating countries, the U.S. ranked 15th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math.
The U.S. average scores in the three testing sections have not changed much from previous testing years. On the other hand, Shanghai, for example, has turned itself into an education powerhouse in three decades. The biggest focus in Shanghai and other top education performing countries is the quality of teaching.
Finland and Shanghai Inspire Higher Standards
The country with the most rigorous standards for teachers is Finland, closely followed by Shanghai. In Finland, one in ten applicants for teacher training programs are accepted. The training programs take five or more years to complete, and you must have a master’s degree to be considered for the program. In Shanghai, teachers must have a degree in the field they wish to teach, even at an elementary school level.
Teachers in Shanghai are mentored from the beginning of their career, by a master teacher. Throughout their career, teachers continue to meet with their mentors to improve their professional development.
While it is important for students to learn in a structured environment, it is equally important for teachers to have a structured environment in which to improve their teaching. Teachers in Shanghai can expect to be observed 20-30 times each year – a facet of teacher training that may seem daunting to teachers in the West.
The education system in Shanghai does not succeed based on any of the sole factors, but rather by a combination of all of these factors. The system still has its drawbacks, but the U.S. can learn a lot from the Shanghai education system.
If the U.S. puts as much money into teacher training as it does into reducing class size and creating charter schools, the country will improve its scores and be among European and Asian students who are currently outperforming U.S. students.
A sample of the PISA test is available here.
– Haley Sklut